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We’re just days away from the 2018 midterm elections, and early voting is already open in many states. By now, you’ve probably heard a lot about the battle for control of Congress (not to mention the record number of women running). While the results of those races matter, they’re not the only consequential contests on the ballot.
The winners of the thousands of “down-ballot” seats up for grabs this year will have a big impact on your day-to-day life. These races will determine who writes, signs and enforces state-level laws on everything from the cost of college to reproductive rights to access to the polls.
Read on for a breakdown of the key down-ballot races and what’s at stake for each position. Check out a personalized sample ballot by clicking here. You’ll be able to type in your address and see what will appear on your ballot before casting your vote.
Much like the president on the federal level, state chief executives come up with a budget blueprint, issue executive orders and policy proposals, and decide whether to sign or veto the laws sent to their desk by the state legislature. Lieutenant governors, meanwhile, are essentially state-level vice presidents. They will step in if something happens to the person in the top post, either permanently or in an acting manner if the governor is temporarily incapacitated, and will often sit on commissions and serve procedural roles in the state legislature.
Given their role in policy, the fate on everything from your state’s actions on climate change to tax cuts to abortion access is in their hands.
Just six of the 50 state governors — 12 percent — are women. With 16 female gubernatorial nominees running nationwide, those numbers are expected to rise. Five states with female nominees — including GOP-favored seats in Iowa and South Dakota — have never elected a woman to the role. There are other firsts on deck, too. Voters have the chance to elect the first black female governor (Stacey Abrams in Georgia), the first Native American female governor (Paulette Jordan in Idaho) and the first transgender governor (Christine Hallquist in Vermont). And Andria Tupola, a Republican running in Hawaii, is making waves as the only Asian Pacific Islander woman on the ballot for governor this year.
“I had a few people tell me that maybe I didn’t have the right body part to be a governor. I said to them: ‘That’s unfortunate, but we’re going to win. And we’re going to do some really big things.’” — Kristi Noem, GOP gubernatorial nominee in South Dakota, on running to be the state’s first female governor
Members of the state legislature actually write and pass the laws in your state (including the budget). In many states, they’ll also be in charge of the high-stakes process of drawing new state and congressional districts that will be used for the next 10 years. Like Congress, there are typically two branches, a state Senate and a state House, sometimes called an Assembly or House of Delegates.
Given the gridlock in Washington, decisions on crucial issues are increasingly being left to the states. “Medicaid expansion, reproductive rights, gun reform, [when] these things come up in these watershed events, people want to call their U.S. senators,” says Catherine Vaughan, CEO of Flippable, an advocacy group working to elect Democrats to state legislatures. “It might make more sense to call their state senators.” State legislators also pass policy that will directly affect your life — and bottom line — including when it comes to health care, higher education tuition and taxes.
More than 6,000 seats spread across 87 legislative chambers are up for a vote this year. These election battles can mirror what’s happening on the federal level. Republicans currently control 67 of the nation’s 99 legislative chambers. Democrats are hoping a blue wave will help them close the gap.
Nationwide, the share of women serving in state legislatures hovers around 25 percent. The surge in women running could give those numbers a boost. Thirty-four of the 46 states holding state legislative elections this year saw a record number of female nominees on the ballot, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Nevada is poised to elect the first majority-female legislature in the country.
“There’s not a lot of representation of elected officials who can relate to the everyday challenges that most people relate to. I wanted to continue to be that voice. I thought about the impact I could have right away.” — Amber Little-Turner, Republican state House nominee for Pennsylvania’s 74th District
The attorney general, often called a state’s top cop, is responsible for enforcing laws and representing the state on legal matters.
The future of health care, the environment and reproductive rights may rest with which lawyer you elect to state government. They have the power to sue people and entities, including banks and student loan services acting in bad faith, as well as the president himself.
Thirty states are electing an attorney general this year. Click here to see the full list.
As it stands now, there are eight female attorneys general across the country. Several states are seeing historic runs. The Democratic nominee in New York, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, would be the first black woman elected to a statewide executive post in the state. Arizona Democrat January Contreras could be the state’s first Latina elected to the role. And Erika Harold, a 38-year-old running in Illinois, would be the first Republican woman of color to serve as attorney general nationwide.
“Who’s going to be there to defend students or residents or consumers or the environment when this administration is upending so many long-standing protections and turning the rule of law on its head? The role of AG has never been more important.” — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D)
On the federal level, the secretary of state is the nation’s top diplomat. The state versions serve a different, but just as important, function. The secretary oversees voter registration and election administration (if you live in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania or Virginia, the position is called secretary of the commonwealth). Serving as elections chief often isn’t the job’s only responsibility. In many states, the role has other administrative duties, including registering businesses and serving as the state’s record-keeper.
Do you care about ensuring fair elections? What about having access to the polls? Then you should pay attention to the secretary of state’s race. For an example of how influential these seats can be, look no further than the firestorm the enforcement of Georgia’s voting rules has generated in the Peach State’s hotly contested gubernatorial race.
Twenty-six states will vote for secretary of state this year. Click here for the full list.
While these races often get less attention, there are some barrier-breaking candidacies. Deidre DeJear, the Democratic nominee in Iowa, for example, is poised to become the first black woman elected statewide.
“Imagine democracy being a door and the key to that door being the vote! Guess who holds those keys ... the Secretary of State!” — Deidre DeJear, Democratic secretary of state nominee in Iowa
Depending on where you live, there may be any number of additional names and issues on the ballot. Voters in seven states will get to pick a schools chief (a.k.a. the superintendent of public instruction).
In four, an insurance commissioner tasked with regulating the industry and protecting consumers is on the ballot this year.
While the Texas Senate race is getting all the attention, Lone Star voters will also choose commissioners to oversee agriculture and public lands.
And dozens of states will fill a financial role (think comptroller or treasurer) to keep the state’s books balanced and above board.
In Nevada, the ballot includes a question on whether to keep the “tampon tax” on feminine hygiene products in place.
And in Massachusetts, a measure on rights for transgender folks is up for a vote.
Click here to find a sample ballot for where you live.